The Pittsburgh Penguins’ core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Marc-Andre Fleury and Kris Letang have been under close scrutinization after the continual postseason disappointments.
Will Tomer and Michael Straw have presented the arguments for and against trading Malkin, but I personally side with Tomer on this matter. Malkin is too valuable for the Penguins and any such trade would not provide adequate value in return.
The concept of trading Malkin is simple and seems to make sense on first glance, get rid of a $9.5 million dollar cap hit and net a few NHL players and draft picks back.
However, a drastic move such as this would signal that the Penguins are entering a rebuilding mode, instead of competing for the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh’s best chance of winning a Stanley Cup is with Crosby, Malkin and Fleury on the roster. Notice which play I left out of that short list?
Kris Letang as a Player
Kris Letang is a dynamic, mobile and skilled offensive defenseman. He is also the fourth highest paid defender in the NHL, ahead of the likes of Drew Doughty, Erik Karlsson, Alex Pietrangelo and Duncan Keith.
While Letang has produced at .58 points per regular season game and .57 points per playoff contest, his availability is becoming a serious issue.
I wrote, and believe, that the Penguins championship window remains wide open and in that I cite how Letang has played in 75.8% of games since the Penguins won the Stanley Cup and 91.5% of playoff contests in that time frame.
So how is availability an issue for this star defenseman? It’s not the amount of time Letang has missed, but it’s the severity of his ailments.
Throughout the course of his career, he has sustained numerous lower-body injuries, suffered four concussions, and a stroke. All of this has happened before his 28th birthday.
The 2014-2015 season was the first year in Letang’s 8 year/$58 million dollar contract. His annual cap hit is $7.25 million per season and this is proving to be a large burden on the Penguins’ salary cap.
The trio of Crosby, Malkin and Letang combined make over $25 million per season or roughly 37% of the total salary cap. Add in Fleury, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and Rob Scuderi and it’s almost $42 million or 61% of the salary cap in just seven players.
This model is not sustainable and hopefully some relief will come this offseason if Scuderi is bought out and Kunitz is traded, but we should not count on anything.
It’s clear the Penguins’ model is not working and how to you fix it? You break the model.
That’s the very reason why the speculation of trading Malkin came about. Many cite how he was ineffective this postseason, but they fail to realize that Malkin was playing through an injured ankle.
For an NHL player, everything stems from the feet and ankles, if their base is not healthy, it is incredibly difficult to produce and extremely painful to play.
What would the return be for Kris Letang?
Arguably the best two centers in the entire NHL reside on the Penguins roster in Crosby and Malkin. Yes, they both have had injury problems, but their talent is too great to lose.
Pittsburgh has the luxury of having young puck-movers coming through their prospect system and will eventually replace Letang’s production. Look at what Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot have been able to do in their first exposure, give them time and they will be top pairing defenders, or top four at the worst.
If the Penguins’ do decide to break up the core, it’s Letang that should be traded. He’s a medical disaster and just one hit away from his career being over.
Trading away Letang would not be for a significant return, but the relief of his contract is a good enough return alone.
His cap hit could then be spread over two (or three) quality NHL players to help the Penguins build a deep team.
The tangible return on Letang would not be great, but I do not think anyone is expecting it to be.
Most likely the Pens could net a top-six wing along with a first-round pick for Letang. NHL teams are scared of Letang because of his lengthy contract and terrible medical record.
As such, his trade value is no where near it would have been if he had not suffered his fourth concussion and missed the playoffs.
He’s a game-breaking and dynamic defender and I personally would hate to see Letang playing for another team.
However, this is not a perfect world, the Penguins are a struggling franchise, they need a change and trading Letang might be the first step in the right direction.